Views & Reviews Book Review

Does foreign aid work?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 22 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3646
  1. Gavin Yamey, lead, Evidence to Policy initiative (E2Pi), Global Health Group, University of California, San Francisco
  1. YameyG{at}

This is the wrong question, thinks Gavin Yamey, after reading this book, which considers how a scientific approach can identify the global development programmes that are worth investment

Over the past decade, the global health enterprise—once a marginalised area—has experienced a remarkable turnaround, energised by new global partnerships and a substantial rise in funding. Aid for health grew almost fivefold, from $5.6bn (£3.4bn, €3.8bn) in 1990 to $26.9bn in 2010. This increase in aid must be good news, right? Well, it all depends on your perspective.

Proponents of foreign aid, particularly the health economist Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University, New York, say that aid is crucial for providing the initial investments in health, education, and agriculture that help poor countries escape their poverty trap. In contrast, so called aid sceptics, led by the economists William Easterly at New York University, who writes the Aid Watch blog (, and Dambisa Moyo, author of the bestselling book Dead Aid, say that aid is harmful because it fosters corruption and interferes with local market based solutions.

Does foreign aid work? The question makes for a juicy debate and sells plenty of books. But it …

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